Omnibus (U.S. TV series)

Last updated
Leonard Bernstein's debut appearance, 1954
Genre Variety
Developed by Robert Saudek and the Ford Foundation
Directed byAndrew McCullough (44 eps), Seymour Robbie (24), Charles S. Dubin (22), Bob Banner (16), Tad Danielewski (12), Elliot Silverstein (12), William A. Graham (10)
Presented by Alistair Cooke
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons8 [1] or 9 [2]
No. of episodes152
Running time90 min in first five seasons or 60–90 min in later seasons
Original network CBS (4 seasons, 1952–1956)
ABC (1 season, 1956–1957)
NBC (3 [1] seasons, 1957–1961) or 4 [2] )
Picture formatBlack-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original releaseNovember 9, 1952 (1952-11-09) 
April 16, 1961 (1961-04-16)

Omnibus is an American, commercially sponsored, educational television series.

Television is one of the major mass media of the United States. As of 2011, household ownership of television sets in the country is 96.7%, with approximately 114,200,000 American households owning at least one television set as of August 2013. The majority of households have more than one set. The peak ownership percentage of households with at least one television set occurred during the 1996–97 season, with 98.4% ownership.



Omnibus was created by the Ford Foundation, which sought to increase the education level of the American public. The show was conceived by James Webb Young who hired Robert Saudek as producer. Saudek believed that Omnibus could "raise the level of American taste" with educational entertainment. [1] [3] [4]

Ford Foundation private foundation based in New York City

The Ford Foundation is an American private foundation with the mission of advancing human welfare. Created in 1936 by Edsel Ford and Henry Ford, it was originally funded by a US$25,000 gift from Edsel Ford. By 1947, after the death of the two founders, the foundation owned 90% of the non-voting shares of the Ford Motor Company. Between 1955 and 1974, the foundation sold its Ford Motor Company holdings and now plays no role in the automobile company. Ahead of the foundation selling its Ford Motor Company holdings, in 1949 Henry Ford II created the Ford Motor Company Fund, a separate corporate foundation which to this day serves as the philanthropic arm of the Ford Motor Company and is not associated with the foundation. For years it was the largest, and one of the most influential foundations in the world, with global reach and special interests in economic empowerment, education, human rights, democracy, the creative arts, and Third World development.

James Webb Young (1886-1973) was an American advertising executive who became First Chairman of The Advertising Council.

Robert Saudek was an American TV producer and executive, son of flutist and conductor Victor Saudek (1879–1966).

The show was broadcast live, primarily on Sunday afternoons at 4:00pm EST, from November 9, 1952, until April 16, 1961. Omnibus originally aired on CBS, and later on Sunday evenings on ABC. The show was never commercially viable on its own, and sources of funding dwindled after the Ford Foundation ended its sponsorship in 1957. [1] That year, the program moved to NBC, where it was irregularly scheduled until 1961. The show's first season had an audience of 4 million, which grew to 5.7 million at its peak in 1957. [1] ABC aired a brief revival of the series in 1981.[ citation needed ]

CBS American broadcast television network

CBS is an American English language commercial broadcast television and radio network that is a flagship property of CBS Corporation. The company is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City with major production facilities and operations in New York City and Los Angeles.

American Broadcasting Company American broadcast television network

The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) is an American commercial broadcast television network that is a flagship property of Walt Disney Television, a subsidiary of the Disney Media Networks division of The Walt Disney Company. The network is headquartered in Burbank, California on Riverside Drive, directly across the street from Walt Disney Studios and adjacent to the Roy E. Disney Animation Building, But the network's second corporate headquarters and News headquarters remains in New York City, New York at their broadcast center on 77 West 66th Street in Lincoln Square in Upper West Side Manhattan.

NBC American television and radio network

The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) is an American English-language commercial terrestrial television network that is a flagship property of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast. The network is headquartered at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, with additional major offices near Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. The network is one of the Big Three television networks. NBC is sometimes referred to as the "Peacock Network", in reference to its stylized peacock logo, introduced in 1956 to promote the company's innovations in early color broadcasting. It became the network's official emblem in 1979.

The series won more than 65 awards, including eight Emmy Awards (it was nominated for thirteen) [5] and two Peabody Awards. [6] The series is held at the Library of Congress and Global ImageWorks, among other archives. The Bernstein Omnibus programs were released in a 4-DVD set for Region 1 [7] and Region 2 in 2010.

An Emmy Award, or simply Emmy, is an American award that recognizes excellence in the television industry, and is the equivalent of an Academy Award, the Tony Award, and the Grammy Award.

Peabody Award international awards for excellence in radio and television

The George Foster Peabody Awards program, named for the American businessman and philanthropist George Peabody, honor the most powerful, enlightening, and invigorating stories in television, radio, and online media. Programs are recognized in seven categories: news, entertainment, documentaries, children's programming, education, interactive programming, and public service. Peabody Award winners include radio and television stations, networks, online media, producing organizations, and individuals from around the world.

Library of Congress (de facto) national library of the United States of America

The Library of Congress (LOC) is the research library that officially serves the United States Congress and is the de facto national library of the United States. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States. The Library is housed in three buildings on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; it also maintains the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. The Library's functions are overseen by the Librarian of Congress, and its buildings are maintained by the Architect of the Capitol. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Library of Congress as the largest library in the world, and the the library describes itself as such. Its "collections are universal, not limited by subject, format, or national boundary, and include research materials from all parts of the world and in more than 450 languages."


The show, hosted by Alistair Cooke in his American television debut, featured diverse programming about science, the arts, and the humanities. The program featured original works by playwrights such as William Saroyan, interviews with public figures such as architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and performances by many of the most prominent entertainers of the day such as Jack Benny and Orson Welles. A heavily abridged version of Shakespeare's King Lear starring Orson Welles and directed by Peter Brook, was telecast on 18 October 1953 on CBS. Leonard Bernstein and Jonathan Winters made their first television appearances in the series. Bernstein gave his first televised music lectures on the program, and conducted one of the earliest telecasts of excerpts from Handel's Messiah on it. The best remembered episode featuring Bernstein was his first, transmitted on November 14, 1954: an analysis of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in which the conductor demonstrated what the music might have been like if Beethoven had left some of his discarded music sketches in the symphony.

Alistair Cooke British journalist and broadcaster

Alistair Cooke was a British writer whose work as a journalist, television personality and radio broadcaster was done primarily in the United States. Outside his journalistic output, which included Letter from America and America: A Personal History of the United States, he was well known in the United States as the host of PBS Masterpiece Theatre from 1971 to 1992. After holding the job for 22 years, and having worked in television for 42 years, Cooke retired in 1992, although he continued to present Letter from America until shortly before his death. He was the father of author and folk singer John Byrne Cooke.

William Saroyan American writer

William Saroyan was an Armenian-American novelist, playwright, and short story writer. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1940, and in 1943 won the Academy Award for Best Story for the film adaptation of his novel The Human Comedy.

Frank Lloyd Wright American architect

Frank Lloyd Wright was an American architect, interior designer, writer, and educator, who designed more than 1,000 structures, 532 of which were completed. Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. This philosophy was best exemplified by Fallingwater (1935), which has been called "the best all-time work of American architecture". His creative period spanned more than 70 years.

Hans Conried was featured in the 1958 episode "What Makes Opera Grand?", an analysis by Leonard Bernstein showing the powerful effect of music in opera. [8] Conried played Marcello in a spoken dramatization of act 3 of Puccini's La bohème . The program demonstrated the effect of the music in La bohème by having actors speak portions of the libretto in English, followed by opera singers singing the same lines in the original Italian. [9]

Hans Conried actor

Hans Georg Conried, Jr. was an American actor and voice actor, who was very active in voice-over roles and known for providing the voices of Walt Disney's Mr. George Darling, and Captain Hook in Peter Pan (1953), for playing the title role in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Dr. Miller on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, Professor Kropotkin on the radio and film versions of My Friend Irma, his work as Uncle Tonoose on Danny Thomas's sitcom Make Room for Daddy, and multiple roles on I Love Lucy.

Giacomo Puccini 19th and 20th-century Italian opera composer

Giacomo Antonio Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was an Italian opera composer who has been called "the greatest composer of Italian opera after Verdi".

<i>La bohème</i> opera by Giacomo Puccini

La bohème is an opera in four acts, composed by Giacomo Puccini to an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, based on Scènes de la vie de bohème by Henri Murger. The world premiere of La bohème was in Turin on 1 February 1896 at the Teatro Regio, conducted by the 28-year-old Arturo Toscanini. Since then, La bohème has become part of the standard Italian opera repertory and is one of the most frequently performed operas worldwide.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 William M. Jones; Andrew Walworth (13 December 1999). "Saudek's Omnibus: ambitious forerunner of public TV". Current . Retrieved 18 February 2019. During its eight-season run, Omnibus aired on all three commercial networks – four seasons on CBS, one on ABC and the last three on NBC.
  2. 1 2 Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time, Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946 to 2007 . Ballantine. p. 1014.[ need quotation to verify ][ ISBN missing ]
  3. Robert Saudek, "Experiment in Video Programming", The New York Times , 9 November 1952, 13(X).
  4. Anna McCarthy, The Citizen Machine: Governing by Television in 1950s America, New York: The New Press, 2010, p. 18. "In statements such as this, Cold War liberals diagnosed the potential contradictions emerging from the postwar economy's emphasis on mass consumption in terms of the inadequate moral education of the populace; the cure was the administration of culture by an elite class immune to the seductions of the mass. Hence television programs such as Omnibus, sponsored by the Ford Foundation."
  5. "Omnibus (NBC) – Awards & Nomintions". The Emmys. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  6. "Search results: Omnibus". The Peabody Awards. Retrieved 30 December 2018.
  7. Bernstein, Leonard. Omnibus: The Historic TV Broadcasts on 4 DVDs. E1 Entertainment, 2010. ISBN   1-4172-3265-X.
  8. "What Makes Opera Grand? in Omnibus (script)". Leonard Bernstein. 23 March 1958. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  9. What Makes Opera Grand? on IMDb